Welcome to our brand new blog series, Nourish & Nurture, which will feature dietitian stories on how they feed their own children. This series will be sprinkled in with other posts throughout the year – all of which are designed to provide practical application in family nutrition.
My hope with this new series is that families get a unique glimpse into what nutrition experts do in their day-to-day lives, and obtain creative tips on things such as child feeding behaviors, individualizing situations by child, easy meal preparation ideas and favorite nutrition resources. Even with all the head knowledge, I am sure you will notice that dietitians still have parental instincts and fears that may impact feeding behaviors we teach and/or model to our children – the good, bad and the ugly. As parents, we bring our past experiences of food to the “table” when we feed our own children. Feeding, nourishing and experiencing food and flavors with children is a process that I hope we are all willing to tweak as needed. Issues in feeding can originate with us, our children, the environment, our hectic lives – all of it is fair game and can all play a part at one or another. At the end of the day, each child is very unique and must be treated that way. I hope you can identify with some of their stories, and leave with some insight for your own lives.
Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RD, LDN, CDE is our first dietitian to be featured on Nourish & Nurture! Melissa is a food and nutrition expert, media resource, professional speaker and coach with more than 20 years’ experience in the field of nutrition and health promotion. Melissa relies on evidence-based information to help her clients and audiences be informed and empowered, one “sound” bite at a time. I recently became acquainted with Melissa through the spokesperson program at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that I joined in June of this year and she as a seasoned spokesperson already in the program. Melissa and I found many common professional interests, and I was also drawn to her super fun and gregarious personality! I was honored to be a featured dietitian on her Sound Bites blog, and I thought she would be a great person to debut in this series. And as a professional coach, she generously suggested many names for this series – Nourish & Nurture was one of them. Thanks for that, Melissa! And thanks for joining us, Melissa! I’d love to learn a little about your precious family.
What are the ages and gender of your children?
My son, Michael, will be 5 in April and my daughter, Sarah, just turned 13.
Tell us about any feeding challenges you have had with your child/children and how you overcame them.
Sarah: When Sarah was younger she always had this wonderful sense of when she was hungry and when she was full so I always respected that and let her decide how much she wanted to eat. But as she got older and hit some growth spurts there were times when I thought “my goodness, she’s putting a lot of food on her plate!” However, as a dietitian who formerly specialized in eating disorders, I really tried to keep my comments to myself. I also had many conversations with my husband about not commenting on her large portions or talking about dieting in front of her. In general, I don’t think men are as aware as women are of the impact those comments can have on a young girl.
Sarah loves food – especially things like sausage, cakes, and other high fat items. I remember she loved to order ribs when we went out to dinner and one time we were talking about it and I found out she had no idea whatsoever that they were any higher in calories than a chicken breast. So, now she’s a teenager and she knows more about food and nutrition – some from our talks and also from school, and she makes healthier choices than ever before, but she still enjoys treats on a regular basis. More than anything, I want her to have a healthy relationship with food and hopefully avoid some of the “food issues” many adolescent girls deal with.
Michael: Michael is certainly not a picky eater, but he’s a plain eater – which reminds me of how I ate when I was a kid. As a dietitian mom, I did a good job exposing him to healthy foods at an early age but I didn’t do as well exposing him to a variety of different flavors and seasonings, mostly because I was avoiding high sodium foods because they would make him thirsty and wake up a lot during the night! If he woke up that meant I woke up, too….what can I say - I needed sleep! But I have to laugh when my husband complains that Michael is not eating what we’re eating for dinner and I look at the meal and think – ha! Michael is eating black beans, a hardboiled egg, yogurt, raw veggies, some fruit and a glass of milk….WE should be eating what HE is eating – it’s healthier than our dinner! But I am definitely not a “short order cook” for him. If he doesn’t like what we’re eating then I offer him simple, whole foods that are quick and easy for me to prepare. He’s always fine with that and doesn’t demand that mommy cooks him something special.
Sometimes Michael just “isn’t hungry” so I don’t pressure him to eat. More often, however, he will eat non-stop for two hours or more (all healthy foods, of course!) and I think: “Wow! That kid must be growing!” and I let him continue to eat until he has decided he’s finished. I think it’s easier to do that when your child is “normal” weight. If my child was overweight, I have to admit it would be hard to “trust” his hunger levels. Then there are, of course, times when he asks for Halloween candy for breakfast and I say “we just don’t do that” and he says “why?” so I try to talk to him about nutrition and how important it is. I don’t know if he gets all that yet, but at least he knows we don’t eat candy for breakfast!
Recently at the dinner table, my husband was regaling us with memories of when he was on a farm and plucked a chicken. Sarah said “Ah – Dad! Stop! You’re going to turn me into a vegetarian!” and I said “The only kind of vegetarian you would ever be is a baco-vegetarian” (she loves bacon, and yes, I’m pretty sure I made that word up so if it shows up on Wikipedia….). Then my husband said to Michael “Do you know what a vegetarian is?” and Michael said “Ummm – a dietitian?” and of course we all laughed. The inside joke is that I’m NOT a vegetarian.
Brown bag or school lunch? Why?
Its school lunch for us! I know my kids can get more variety and certainly good nutrition by choosing school lunch. Sarah can attest that her summer camp brown bag lunches get boring pretty quickly – especially when we’re limited to shelf-stable foods. With school lunch we don’t have to worry about the foods being kept at the proper temperature like we do when we pack a lunch box.
Although I’m a fan of school nutrition programs, I have had some negative experiences. I had quite an eye-opener on two occasions at my daughter’s grade school:
1) When Sarah was in 2nd grade I would take her to ‘early drop off’ before heading to work. Since they did not have an official “breakfast program” they sent a letter home telling parents they were “required” to feed their children breakfast before early drop off. So, being a dietitian and a rule follower, I did just that. It took me a few weeks to realize that Sarah was, in fact, eating another breakfast when she got to school. I actually hid around the corner and watched the school staff basically pressuring her into eating a muffin or a bagel! When I asked Sarah if she was eating two breakfasts, she said “Well….yes.” (Duh). From that day on I let her eat at school and didn’t make her eat at home. Problem solved.
2) When Sarah was in 3rd grade we noticed that her school meal account balance was dwindling quickly. We asked her if she was perhaps feeding some friends or something. She told us that when they served hot dogs or hamburgers she would have seconds….because the other kids did. I thought: No 3rd grader needs two hot dogs or two hamburgers!! I actually had to call the school and have them put a note on her account that she could only have seconds on veggies, fruit, whole grains or dairy.
With childhood obesity such a problem these days, I was surprised to encounter these issues in our school district.
In reference to feeding children, what are things that you learned as a mother that might not have been in the nutrition books?
My kids have taught me that food can be a lot of fun. Both my kids love to help out in the kitchen, whether it’s making banana bread, Panini sandwiches or holiday cookies. My daughter and I have fun finding new recipes to try on Pinterest and my son’s favorite activity at daycare is baking. Having fun with food is a wonderful way to spend family time and to be creative. And It’s so much fun to lighten up and really enjoy the food!
What are your top 3 practical tips you can provide mothers in feeding children that you use in your home?
1) It’s what you do most of the time that counts. Like the 80/20 rule (80% of the time do what’s best for nutrition/health and 20% of the time loosen up the rules). Either way – whether you’re in the 80 or the 20 percent – have FUN with food! Enjoy the food and let the kids know that food is to be enjoyed as well as nourish the body.
2) Try to trust your kids whether it is when they are hungry or full, or what foods they choose at school or at home. They really need to learn and practice these skills. If you do it all for them, they cannot learn it for themselves.
3) Try to aim for 2 food groups at a snack and 3-4 food groups at a meal. It never fails me! I may not have time to cook – but if I’ve given my children a vegetable, whole grain and a protein, or a dairy, fruit and a protein, I know I’ve provided the important nutrients they need.
What are your favorite family nutrition resources (websites, books, cookbooks, gadgets, tools, etc.)?
I really love Ellyn Satter’s books on feeding children. Also, I received Bridget Swinney’s Baby Bites book when I had my son and found it to be invaluable. Now I give it is a shower gift to my girlfriends!
Tell us about any current nutrition initiatives you are working on that might assist parents and families in balanced nutrition and wellness.
As an Academy Spokesperson, I do national media interviews about family nutrition and try to share tips and stories that will help parents navigate the nutrition waters armed with more clarity and confidence!
Thanks again for joining us, Melissa, and sharing some great insight into how you nourish and nurture your family.